Lawton Gowey was a regular visitor to the demolition scene of the Seattle Hotel. His collection of Kodachrome slides records nearly the entire process of the destruction of the 1890 landmark. Gowey dated this slide June 8, 1961. The demolition work began with the interior on the third of April, and here, two months later, most of the top floor is gone.
The removal of the ornate cornice at the top of the five and one-half story landmark got an early start with the city’s 1949 earthquake. For safety, and probably for economy too, much of it was removed following the quake. Still, the hotel stayed opened until the spring of 1960, when its closure was announced. It was widely assumed that it would soon be razed – not renovated. The same was expected for its then still on the skids Pioneer Square, the city’s most historic neighborhood.
Citizen response, however, was surprising. In an attempt to save the hotel, a local cadre of preservationists quickly formed. Although that battle was lost, the enthusiasts for local heritage won the war by saving the neighborhood. The city’s new Department of Community Development, the DCD, formed the Pioneer Square Historic District in 1970.
By this time the four-floor parking lot that was built on the hotel’s flatiron footprint was commonly called the “Sinking Ship Garage.” It is still one of our best local jokes. The garage’s architect-engineers, Gilbert Mandeville and Gudmund Berge, were fresh off their 1959 success as local consultants for the Logan Building at Fifth Avenue and Union Street, the city’s first glass curtain box. Here, in Pioneer Square, they added what they and its owners considered a compliment to the historic neighborhood: a basket-handle shaped railing made of pipe, a kind of undulating cornice, that ran along the top of the concrete garage.
Lawton Gowey loved the Smith Tower. His juxtaposition of the well-wrought tower, the injured hotel, and the wrecker’s crane is at once elegant and ambivalent.
Anything to add, lads? Golly Jean, yes. Ron Edge has put up two links to past features. Both are rich with references to this triangle. Following that are few more relevant clips cut from past Pacifics.
I imagine that many Pacific readers will recognize Lawton Gowey’s not so old “then.” Without comparing Jean Sherrard’s repeat, they may remember the location of this stubby trestle from the times they chose Western Avenue to escape the congestion of other downtown avenues. That was a handy avoidance strategy, which had begun already in the 1890s when Western was planked, supported then on its own offshore trestle.
Here at University Street a timbered ramp that crossed above Western between Front Street (First Avenue) and Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) was built soon after the Great Fire of 1889. Plans to rebuild it in steel were never fulfilled, and so all its many repairs kept to wood. Gowey had studied the history of this bridge and many others Seattle subjects. He kept track of the changes in our cityscape. He was not a typical urban photographer; his interests were not so picturesque. These interests, I believe, explain this photo of the somewhat dilapidated trestle on University Street, and the scar where it had been cut short years earlier. Late in the 1930s the city’s engineers recommended removing the ramp’s center pier over Western Ave. That claim stopped all traffic on the ramp; only pedestrians could still reach Western Avenue by the stairway shown.
I met Lawton Gowey early in 1982, the year he took this photo. By then Lawton was recognized as a local authority on the history of public transportation, and I went to him for help. He honed his interest in the 1930s, when he explored Seattle with his father and the family camera. Later, working downtown as accountant for the Seattle Water Department, he had ready access to many of the city’s archives. With his camera he continued to explore. Some of his
subjects, such as the construction of the SeaFirst Building in the late 1960s, he tracked from his office in the City Light Building and other prospects as well. He used his lunch hours to explore and record changes in the Central Business District and on the waterfront. His collection includes the many shots he took over time and in all directions from the Smith Tower observatory. We’ll insert here two looks up a freezing Third Avenue photographed by Lawton from the Seattle City Light (and water) Building on the west side of 3rd between Madison and Spring Streets.
Lawton Gowey died of a heart attack in the spring of 1983 at the mere age of sixty-one. In the little time Lawton and I had to nurture our friendship, we shared many interests, including repeat photography, London history, and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This last fondness was also fortunate for both Bach and the members of Bethany Presbyterian Church. Beginning in 1954 Lawton, was both organist and choir director for that Queen Anne Hill singing congregation.
Anything to add, Paul? Yessir. Ron has put up four former features. Startlingly, or predictable for those who remember the week past, the first if last week’s feature, which was also on University Street and near the waterfront. The other three edge-links stay near the neighborhood, and predictably, as is our way, some of the images will appear again and again but in different sets or contexts. This week’s fairly recent (from 1982) photograph is another by Lawton Gowey, and I’ll introduce a portrait or two of Lawton and a clip or two too. Contrarily, I may take some of them and insert it in the above – the main or featured text. Next week we return to another touchstone – Pioneer Square.
Here is an opportunity for readers to enjoy our deeply human urge to play hide and seek. What is often made of bricks and tiles in the “then” panorama may still be discovered beside or behind the grand expanse of glass rising so high in the “now.” You may wish to start with the Smith Tower. Only a slice of that 1914 landmark can be found far down Second Avenue on the right. Both views, of course, were photographed from the Space Needle. The historical photographer exposed his or her Kodachrome slide in 1962 when the Space Needle was new. Jean Sherrard recorded his digital repeat late last February, on a perfect day for photography when that winter light with its soft shadows is so forgiving and revealing.
In the upper-right corner of Jean’s repeat, a crisp Mt. Rainier reflects the afternoon sun so that the name, “The Mountain that was God,” seems most appropriate. When Seattle and Tacoma were still arguing whether it should be named Mt. Rainier or Mt. Tacoma, this sublime substitute was used, in part, to transcend the promotional rancor bouncing back and forth between the two cities.
For the more ancient among us, the 1962 panorama may reflect The Seattle Times now long-passed columnist Emmett Watson’s campaign for a “Lesser Seattle.” Watson, with the help of rain and this modest skyline, hoped to discourage Californians from visiting, or worse, staying in Seattle. This was the Central Business District before major leagues, digital commerce, grunge, and acres of tinted glass curtains. Seek and you may still find the Seattle Tower (1928), the Medical Dental Building (1925), and the Roosevelt Hotel (1929), but not the nearly new Horizon House (1961) on First Hill, here hidden behind many newer towers.
Anything to add, Paul? Assuredly Jean – and with your help: your’s and Ron’s. First Ron’s. Directly below are three links to landmarks that can still be found in our cityscape, and appear – in part – from the Space Needle. Next, we will put up some examples of pans from favored Seattle prospects. This will not be a surprise to you, because you have recorded repeats for most of them, and when you arise on Sunday morning – after breakfast – you may, we hope, pair these distinguish Seattle examples of panoramas with your own contemporary repeats. As time allows this evening, following those “classic” now-thens, I’ll put up some other wide-angle shots from hither and thither, reaching as far as your family’s favored summer destination: LaPush on the Washington Coast.
A FEW of SEATTLE’S HISTORICAL PROSPECTS Repeated by Jean Sherrard
(CLICK TO ENLARGE)
CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT from the New Washington Hotel
GREEN LAKE, LOOKING WEST to Phinney Ridge & the Olympics
FROM WEST SEATTLE
FROM PIONEER SQUARE HISTORIC DISTRICT
ABOVE THE ROOF OF TOWN HALL
From The KING STREET COAL WHARF
PETERSON & BROS. Pan From YESLER WHARF, 1878
THE 1909 ALASKA YUKON PACIFIC EXPOSITION ACROSS PORTAGE BAY